How carrying a backpack can affect your spine depending on backpack structure and carrying weight? Which recommendations backpackers should follow while carrying heavy weights? Should backpack straps better be tightened or loosen?

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  • Just in case @Seeker001 makes it over here to TGO: Welcome! You combine various questions into a single one. Please ask your question separately and try to be specific about the problem and situation you are addressing. As it stands this question is too broad, therefore I voted to close it. – imsodin Jul 27 at 19:16

Some things I learnt from books, occasionally an instructor and from others:

  • Pack heavy things close to your body. So do not put heavy things in the outside pocket at the back of your main backpack space. There you can pack your lightest items (walking sticks, for example).
  • Pack heavy things on the top of your backpack. This is why you often see people carrying a heavy tent or shoes on the top. If you have light sleeping gear, you can put it on the bottom.
  • If you have a lot of heavy things, consider putting some on the sides of the backpack (thus still close to your body).
  • Pack your backpack so the weight is balanced left and right; otherwise your spine will be forced to turn to compensate.
  • Walk slightly bent over (do not exaggerate), keeping the middle point of force over your feet. This makes your walk more stable, and prevents you being pulled backwards.
  • Carry the backpack quite high on your back; this makes the force pulling backwards less high if you bend slightly over.
  • Consider splitting your load on your front: carry the most heavy things on your back, but if you have another small backpack, put it on your front. This way there is more balance forward and backward, so you do not have to walk bent over, which is better for your spine, and it prevents:
  • Do not carry heavy things in your hand (unless you need them for or during the walk almost continuously).
  • (Credits for the remark of Weather Vane, see remark below): When carrying a lot of weight, choose a pack with a broad hip belt that will transfer weight directly to your hips, instead of via the spine. The shoulder straps will then carry less weight, and serve mostly to hold the pack close to your back. (My own addition: afaik the weight ratio is about 2/3 to the hips, 1/3 to the shoulder straps).
  • I always tighten my backpack straps quite tight. If the load is moving around, you get every step (small) bumps (thus force) on your back; besides it uses energy (even if it slides left/right and doesn't bump). Especially if you go steep (either up up down), put the shoulder straps slightly tighter; the hip straps should always be kept tight.
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    I add: when carrying a lot of weight choose a pack with a broad waist belt that will transfer weight directly to your hips, instead of via the spine. The shoulder straps will then carry less weight, and serve mostly to hold the pack close to your back. Here is a backpack guide that might help. – Weather Vane Jul 27 at 18:00
  • @WeatherVane Thanks for that great addition (I forgot to mention it, it's indeed very important), so I added it to my answer (credits to you). – Michel Keijzers Jul 27 at 19:03
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    @WeatherVane that weight-bearing padded belt normally called a "hip belt" IME while a belt that just stabilises the pack is called a waist belt and sits rather higher. It's possible this is UK usage. – Chris H Jul 28 at 11:30
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    @ChrisH I did mean "hip belt" thanks. – Weather Vane Jul 28 at 18:33
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    With a well-fitting backpack with good hip belt, I often leave the shoulder straps very loose as long as the trail doesn't demand special balance. That way, close to 0 weight is on the shoulders, it's all on the hips. This is the big (65-80 l) backpack. I try not to have too much heavy stuff too far up (rather close to my back, bewetten the height of hips and shoulders): top heavy is more difficult to balance and will require more tightened shoulder straps. Ideally, when standing the backpack should fall towards your back. – cbeleites Aug 5 at 15:19

The tips in the Keijzers' answer are valid. Some additional comments:

Overall the purpose of loading your pack with weight high/close is to reduce the lean you need to compensate for the change in your centre of mass. In the bad old days you could get packs with a frame that you could extend upward past the top of your head to put the weight higher.

While having weight higher helps you walk straighter, it also makes you top heavy. This can be tricking on rough trails, especially steep descents.

Avoid back problems.

  • Train. Go for walks with your pack but with a light load. Wear the shoes you will wear. Try for trails that resemble your trip. Increase the weight and distance.

  • Core strength is key to reducing back pain. Part of the problem is that walking uses your glutes and lower back. These muscles get stronger, but your abs remain the same. Net effect is that the back muscles contract and try to arch your back backward. This hurts.

  • Abs try to balance this, but weak abs can't balance stronger back.

I get this whenever I restart running. First 6 weeks goes well, then I get back aches. My answer has been to do sit ups and planks. Doesn't take a lot. Getting back to doing a few sets of 20 situps, or a few 30 second planks makes the problem go away.

  • Interesting that it takes so long before you notice the back aches. – topshot Jul 30 at 11:44
  • Have to run long enough for glutes to start overpowering abs. – Sherwood Botsford Aug 3 at 0:38

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